In 2015, when Jessica Chapman, MD, joined the Center for Rheumatology LLP in Albany, N.Y., as an associate, she had to build a patient base from scratch. “Referring physicians did not know me, let alone trust me,” she says. “Patients didn’t know me, either.”
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Her solution: Develop a brand and incorporate systems into her practice to enhance that brand. One key component of her brand was to establish herself as an expert physician and communicator among both referring physicians and patients.
“Building trust requires effective communication, as well as professional competence,” Dr. Chapman says. “Trust is probably the No. 1 factor that determines whether or not a physician will refer a patient to you.”
Dr. Chapman notes, “Referring physicians want to know that their patient is in good hands. They are inviting you to be part of their patient’s care team. Team members need to communicate effectively. When providers don’t communicate, patient safety suffers and the patient experience diminishes.”
One of her communication strategies is to promptly send referring physicians a detailed assessment and care plan after a patient visit. She includes a diagnosis, detailed differentials, what she plans to do next and what she’ll do if certain outcomes occur. Also, she does not hesitate to pick up the phone and talk with colleagues to coordinate care.
To maximize communication with patients, Dr. Chapman doesn’t use a computer in the exam room. She reviews a patient’s chart before seeing them. She’ll take note of the patient’s condition and review recent laboratory test results and the patient’s medication list. She’ll also review notes about any personal or non-medical discussions they may have had, such as a child’s upcoming wedding, and then she’s sure to follow up during the exam.
During the interview, Dr. Chapman writes down important information. Additionally, she says, “I make direct eye contact with the patient for about 95% of the interview. Patients greatly appreciate this.”
Taking a course on memory retention helped her get rid of the computer in the exam room. In addition to taking notes, she is looking at the possibility of using virtual scribes when seeing patients to improve her process. During a patient visit, a virtual scribe would enter patient data into Dr. Chapman’s electronic health records in real time. The scribe is not physically in the room, but is connected via an encrypted line and HIPAA compliant.
Another effort focused on good communication is to write a personalized result letter to each patient for every test result—whether it is normal or not. “No news is not good news,” she says. “It means no news.” Also, patients tend to forget what the doctor says to them, so putting it in writing improves patient understanding.